A passage worthy of Epicurus and appropriate for our roiled-up times

“There are among us still those who would deny to others the right to hold a different understanding of the fundamental issues of our time.  Thus, if we look around us , we see dogma still in conflict with rival dogma; we see people of one culture or belief at odds with their human neighbours who are of a different culture or belief; and we see many who are prepared to act upon this difference to the extent of denying the humanity of those with whom they differ.  They are prepared to kill them, and other innocents, in the process, in order to strike at those whom the perceive to be their enemies, even if these so-called enemies are, like them, simple human beings, with families that love them, and with hopes and fears about their own individual futures.

( A long-dead person returning to visit us) “would recognise those self-same conflicts and sorrows which marred his own world and made it such a dangerous place….He would, I suspect, say that much has remained the same; that even if we have put some of the agents of division and intolerance to flight, there is still much evidence of their work among us.

………..” Let us remind ourselves of the possibility of combating, in whatever small way we can, those divisions that come between man and man , between woman and woman, so that we may recognise in each other that vulnerable humanity that informs our lives, and makes life so precious; so that each may find happiness in his or her life, and in the lives of others.  For what else is there for us to hope for? What else, I ask you, what else?”

( An excerpt from Alexander McCall Smith’s book “At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances”, pages 56 and 57.   McCall Smith is the author of the wonderful series  “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” .)


Physician- assisted suicide: the attitudes of doctors are changing, slowly.

Polls show that many Americans think doctors should be allowed to help terminally ill patients end their lives.

The AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs spent two years reviewing resolutions, not so much on whether to support the practice but on whether to take a neutral stance. On 2018 the council recommended that the Code of Medical Ethics “not be amended” and continue to refer to “physician-assisted suicide,” saying that language still “describes the practice with the greatest precision.”

Doctors showed strong support for the status quo, a  position that is increasingly at odds with public opinion.  Polls show that many Americans think  doctors should be allowed to help terminally ill patients end their lives.

Among doctors some argue that physician-assisted death should be a choice for patients who are already dying and want to end their suffering on their own terms. Those on the opposing side contend that such assistance violates one of the core principles of their profession — do no harm — and could become a slippery slope to euthanasia. There’s even disagreement about how to characterize the practice. Opponents say terms such as “aid in dying” are euphemisms that obscure the harsh reality, while proponents see “doctor-assisted suicide” as stigmatizing patients who choose it.

“This is not just a medical issue,” said cardiologist Thomas Sullivan, an AMA delegate from Mkassachusetts who agrees with the recommendation for no change. “This is a social issue. This is a moral issue. This is something that many, many people are faced with from time to time, when your own parents or your own children or your brother or sister or you are faced with a terminal illness.”
Neurologist Lynn Parry, a delegate from Colorado, said she will vote to reject the ethics council’s stance and ask it to spend more time “looking at what protections for physicians, and particularly for patients, would need to be in place” for the AMA to amend its guidance.
“How we look at the universe is really driven by our personal belief system and, in large part, by our philosophies and religious beliefs, and that’s as it should be,” she said.
Her state is among those that allow physician-assisted death. Oregon led the way with a 1994 ballot measure, followed by Washington in 2008 and then Vermont, California, Colorado, the District and Hawaii. A court case established the legality of assisted death in Montana. (California’s 2015 law was overturned by a judge last month, a decision that is being appealed.)

John Radcliffe, right, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, watches as Hawaii Gov. David Ige signs a bill in April to legalize medically assisted suicide.  (Sophia Yan/AP)
The practice drew intense national attention in fall 2014 after a terminally ill woman named Brittany Maynard moved from her home in California to Portland so she could utilize Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. The 29-year-old had been diagnosed with a Stage 4 brain tumor — glioblastoma, the same aggressive cancer that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is battling — and was told it would kill her within six months. She instead set her own timeline, taking a fatal dose of barbiturates that November.
Half a year later, a Gallup poll found nearly 7 out of 10 Americans surveyed said doctors should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives — a notable increase from 2014.
David Grube, a retired family physician from Oregon and national medical director for Compassion & Choices, calls the current AMA policy “antiquated.”
“ ‘Do no harm’ leads to a lot of harm in medicine,” he said, with “people on breathing machines for months and all kinds of things.” He considers the “enemy” to be terminal suffering, especially the cases where doctors can’t ease patients’ pain. Since his state passed its law, Grube said, “more people haven’t died, but fewer people have suffered.”
But doctors are still debating it.
“I just do not believe that in the medical profession, which at its core is about protecting the quality and quantity of life, we should become the agent by which we hand them a prescription so they can choose the exact time and moment of their death,” said M. Zuhdi Jasser, an internist and primary-care physician who serves as an AMA delegate from Arizona.
Jasser, who presented the resolution to maintain the term physician-assisted suicide, said he plans to vote for the association to hold firm.
“The big question that I think physicians are going to be dealing with over the next five, 10, 15 years as more of these states legalize it is: Are our ethical guidelines and core principles going to be determined by cultural shifts and by popular vote or populism,” he said, “or are they going to be things that we adhere to and hold on to regardless of the shifting winds of populists’ concerns?”. (Washington Post, June 10 Lindsey Bever?

Sleep deprivation a particularly Japanese problem

A survey conducted this year using fitness trackers in 28 countries found that Japanese men and women sleep, on average, only six hours and 35 minutes a night, 45 minutes less than the international average, making them the most deprived sleepers in the world.   92.6% of Japanese over 20 said they were not getting enough sleep. In contrast, Finnish women sleep 7.45 hours, and Estonians, Canadians, Belgians and Austrians average a good deal more.

The cost of the sleeplessness is estimated at $138 billion a year. Napping seems to be the answer in Japan, where the health ministry recommends working-age people take 30 minute naps in the early afternoon

My nephew recently returned from Japan, where he installed a state-of- the- art TV studio.  I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to him face-to-face yet, but I gather working in Tokyo with a bunch of people who are all workaholics has been totally exhausting.  The hours are long, very long, and the time for relaxing correspondingly short.  My nephew contrasts the Japanese ( very professional, if sleepless, approach) with his French experience.  There time-keeping is casual until it is time to go home.  Then everyone down- tools and walks out,  regardless of deadlines or commercial  needs.  His (British) team frequently had to work into the night to keep the project on an even keel, abandoned by the clock-watching French techies.

But regardless of cultural gulfs, it is really bad news to expect your workers to cut into their downtime and get so exhausted that thay cannot sleep anyway.  The writer has an inherited difficulty with sleep, so he knows whereof he speaks.   What is needed is moderation, that great contribution to civilisation expounded by Epicurus.  Work hard, play hard, but get at least 7 hours – if you can.


Diet and health

Plant-based foods use less land, water and fuel, and create less pollution than meat and dairy products.   A 2018 study of the impacts of 40 foods from 40,000 farms across 119 countries found that eating less or no animal-based food is critical for reducing our impact on the environment, our health and animal welfare. The World Health Organization says a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and grains is the best path to health and longevity. The bigger the proportion of a person’s diet they comprise, the greater the benefit.  These are some of the products to look for, cut down on , or eliminate:

– Try not to buy food made with palm oil, which often grown in monoculture that degrades soil and leads to deforestation. A 2017 Amnesty International report found the industry used banned pesticides, exploited farmworkers and used forced and child labour. The chocolate and coffee industries have similar issues.

– Buy organic, not because it is just better for your own body, but because it reduces farmworkers’ exposure to many fertilisers and pesticides.

– Avoid meat produced with hormones, steroids and antibiotics.    Beef is a prime example.

– Don’t buy eggs from concentrated animal feeding operations – “cage-free” isn’t as lovely as you think,  that is, the issue of caged chickens is only part of the problem.

– Pick fish from sustainable species that won’t exacerbate overfishing.

– About 40 per cent of edible food is wasted, thrown out, squandering resources like water, land and fuel.  Cook less, finish what you prepare.

– Try to eat less anyway. Fewer calories is a key to longevity and better health, and reduces resource use of all kinds.
( based on an article by P. K. Newby, an associate professor of nutrition at Harvard, and author of Food and Nutrition:  New Scientist. Jan 2019).

My comment:  I realise that what missing from the above short piece are better examples what to avoid; also how to find out what is genuinely produced  without fertilisers, hormones, steroids, antibiotics etc.  – and what to trust.  Suggestions from readers gratefully received!  I am not a food scientist.

Young people – how they might live

In the old days there was almost full employment for the majority of ones working life, a final salary pension, health benefits, sick leave, and a paid holiday entitlement. These benefits have evaporated, and in their place has emerged the short-term contract, which offers no security and few benefits, and large education debts that are hard to reduce.  We can deplore this, but it is a fact, and we have to deal with the insecurity as best we can. The cards are in the hands of employers.  So here are some recommendations:

–  Abandon the consumer society you have grown up with. Things don’t matter, people do. If everyone stopped buying unnecessary things the exploitation would eventually stop (and so would the economy; on the other hand we would have freedom from our rulers, the corporations).  That Maserati you dream of is a five minute sensation.  Once you have it it is part of the scenery and you will want to find something else to hanker after. The whole, massive marketing effort by industry is aimed at getting you to keep spending. Try stopping!

–   As a corollary to the rejection of consumerism, pull in your horns and save money.  How will you live otherwise in old age (will there be any Social Security by then?), or in the event of unemployment? Americans have a bad savings record because they have been encouraged by companies to spend every penny and more, and credit has been historically cheap. Use that credit card sparingly.

–  You need to be very flexible in what you do. The job market in the future may require you to acquire new skills and learn the ins and outs of several businesses and industries.

–  Take on board the idea of lifetime learning and self-education throughout life.  Not only will you be interested in a host of subjects, but you will be more interesting to your friends and more able to adapt to changes in your work. It is possible that the extremes of specialization could fade and the idea of the educated generalists return, able to connect the dots and adapt to new opportunities.  We are too specialized for our own good.

–   Try to abandon the concept of after-office/factory time as being “time off” work.  Work should be something we enjoy, yes (if possible) but we should regard it as something that takes up part of our life and regard time with friends and time pursuing our activities as “time on”.  Work should be “time off”. We work to eat and to have a roof over our heads; it is not the be-all and end-all of existence.  Try not to be a slave to the clock.

–   Notwithstanding the above, be proud of a job well done.  You need to look after your own morale.  So while you are at work do that little more than is required of you.  It also helps when your job review comes up.

–  You have to have something else to live for, apart from work. Nietzsche said, “He who has a “why” to live can bear almost any “how”.  Throughout life you have to have a reason to look forward and find something you enjoy outside work, even if it takes time to find that something. Increasingly, it becomes difficult to experience it in one’s job, and TV and watching sport doesn’t cut it.   Don’t worry if you can’t immediately find something that you love – Van Gogh had no idea what he wanted to do with himself.  He only sold one painting in his whole life and had about four careers.  But he didn’t mind –  he at last found his true vocation and pursued it.  School seldom uncovers all your talents, and in most families parents seldom do either.  Actually, over the course of, say, fifty years you change, mature and recognize for yourself interests and abilities you never dreamed of when you were young. You have a duty to yourself to experiment with all sorts of activities until you find something you are competent in and feel passionate about.

Everything I have mentioned above is consonant with an Epicurean life: the rejection of consumerism and reckless spending, the saving for old age and unemployment, the lifetime learning and acquisition of new skills, the pride in a job well done.  Most of all, Epicurus would want you to enjoy life, have many friends, use your brain and intelligence to discuss and debate, and to find by trial and error, if you can, that special interest or skill that excites you and makes life worth living.

P.S. In my young days there was “full” employment in the UK. Notwithstanding my A Levels, my two years in the army, a good degree from a university difficult to get into, and despite sending out dozens of CVs and making numerous phone calls to potential employers, I had problems getting that first job. I eventually did so, but only after being told I was too old (23!), over-qualified, “inexperienced” (well, yes!) and so on. People with power can be both cruel and arrogant. It wasn’t a happy experience, but I stuck at it and got that job. I told myself it was character-building. Just make a mental note for the future: reply kindly to job applicants and treat them gently as worthwhile human beings if you interview them.

UK Health service plan risks more privatisation

From Gabriel Carlyle, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, UK
To: New Scientist, 2 Feb 2019

Some health campaigners may have welcomed the launch of the UK government’s 10-year plan for the National Health Service (NHS) in England. But, for example, Youssef El-Gingihy, a doctor in east London and author of “How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps”, notes that the form of the so-called “integrated care” being pushed by NHS England boss Simon Stevens – formerly of US private health insurance company UnitedHealth Group – is a US model of healthcare designed to consolidate privatisation of the NHS, not reverse it.

For 70 years, the NHS has provided a cost-effective universal health service, largely free at the point of need to all, irrespective of background, circumstance or ability to pay. Its dismantling will only be stopped by abolishing its division in England into “purchaser” and “provider” bodies, ending the rules that force purchasers to buy services through competitive tender and re-establishing public bodies accountable to local communities, as advocated by the Campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill.

My comment: it has been an objective of right-wing Tories to dismantle the NHS and replicate the American health system, which is partly ( a fraught issue) responsible for shorter lifespans than any other advanced economy, along with astronomical drug prices.    “Free at point of delivery”, Tories think, has produced a population of whingers and takers, who rush to the doctor with the start of every cold.   Friends- of- conservatives should be able to benefit from juicy contracts, and the poor will just have to get on their bikes and work to pay for healthcare, just like their American counterparts.  Thus, the NHS will soon cost, instead of  the current 9.8% of GNP , some figure similar to the American figure of 18%.  Intelligent?

Steadily getting poorer – the legacy of Tory government

Austerity policies have dragged on the UK economy to the tune of £300 per household, per month since the Conservatives came to power, according to the New Economics Foundation thinktank. Its analysis says that under the programme of cuts first introduced by a Tory coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the economy has been left £100bn smaller than it would otherwise have been.

Last year the UK suffered its worst year for GDP growth since 2012 – debunking the chancellor’s claim that Britain can reap an economic dividend if MPs vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal. The economy grew by just 0.2% in the final three months of 2018, down from 0.6% in the third quarter. For 2018 as a whole, GDP growth slipped to its lowest since 2012, at 1.4%, down from 1.8% in 2017.

As the Brexit deadline nears, car makers are stockpiling parts, banks have moved employees to Ireland and continental Europe, and Panasonic and Sony have moved their EU headquarters to mainland Europe. (The Guardian, 12 and 21st February 2019).

With even the hardest-line Tory politicians moving their own money to safe harbours such as Panama, the situation can only get worse.  They should be fully accountable.   Watch while they blame everyone else but themselves!  (“If only we had been in charge – May was hopeless”*).  This is something they do do well!

Womb rental: a racket for the rich

Kim Kardashian is having another baby. Well she’s not actually “having” it herself. She and her husband, the rapper Kanye West, are paying another woman to give birth to it. “I’m totally gonna forget,” she explains. “Then a month before I’m gonna be like holy shit, we need to get a nursery.”

Rent-a-womb is legal in the US but should it be made legal elsewhere? At present, surrogacy is only permissible in the UK, fot instance, on an altruistic basis: surrogate mothers can only be paid expenses. But the Law Commission – a panel of five men – is now reviewing surrogacy law, and rather than follow the example of Sweden, which has proposed banning surrogacy altogether, it seems to have made “streamlining” the law a priority. That sounds very much like a green light for a profitable industry in UK womb rental. Yet you only have to look at the international surrogacy racket to know what the motor force behind that industry will be: financial desperation. It’s that which drives Greek, Indian or Ukrainian women to become “incubators for rich couples”. Is that what we want for Britain? (Catherine Bennett, The Observer and The Week, 14 Jan 2019).

My comment:  I found myself  asking the question, “is this ethical; indeed, is it moral?

–    I agree with Catherine Bennet  – a woman would only agree to bear someone else’s baby if she was desperate for money.    This raises yet again the question of inequality and treatment of the poor, which has become an urgent issue in most places in the world.

–   How can you justify, for money, possibly subjecting a poor woman to possible complications in childbirth, or even death – in return for money? It sounds obscene.  Then, afterwards, there will be feelings, forevermore, of the birth mother who has handed over her baby, and  cannot watch the child grow up.

–   There is an argument for asking why, if a woman is barren or over the age of childbearing, should she not accept her fate with grace and enjoy life in other ways?  ( having children is not the passport to bliss sometimes imagined.  It’s hard work, for a start).  Millions have mental or physical disabilities and have  to live with them in resignation and silence – why not childlessness?

– If you are that desperate for a child are there not many thousands of orphans who, arguably, should be looked after and be placed in a nice home.

I don’t think this is a good idea.

Stay out of other people’s bedrooms and private lives, please!

Family planning clinics that provide abortions or refer patients for abortions will not be eligible for certain federal funds under a new rule finalized by the Trump administration.  Under the rule, women’s health clinics must be “physically and financially” separate from abortion providers to be eligible for Title X Family Planning grants, which fund organizations providing reproductive health services to low-income women.

Clinics will also not be allowed to refer women to other facilities for abortions, or promote or support abortion as a method of family planning. The long-awaited changes to the Title X program had been pushed by conservatives and anti-abortion groups as a way to partially defund Planned Parenthood, which serves about 40 percent of Title X patients.

While not all Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortions, some do, and those clinics would become ineligible under the rule, which takes effect 60 days after being published in the federal register. “This rule could deprive Planned Parenthood of $60 M. dollars a year.

My comment:

What a woman does with her body is not the business of political busybodies. Nobody wants to have an abortion. It is a traumatic, miserable and sometimes dangerous procedure, never to be forgotten. Women seek abortion for good reasons and, mostly, after a lot of anguished thought and discussion. Whether they are desperately poor, cannot look after the children they do have, or have been raped, they make their decision to terminate feeling helpless, scared and alone.

The other side of the coin is that there are too many children growing up as it is, feeling unwanted and a burden on their mothers. How can you, in all conscience, bring an unwanted child into this World? It is cruel, it is a sin. Period! Moreover (and I have only common sense to guide me, not statistics), I suspect that some of the disaffected young men committing mass murder by gunfire are quite probably alienated, fatherless and feel unwanted and angry with the world.  No wonder. Such cruelties, encouraged by people calling themselves “christian”,  have unpredictable effects for years.

This is, I believe, how Epicurus would have reacted, only in ancient Greek.

Poor, beautiful Venice!

There is now a proposed minimum entry fee into Venice of $2.85, rising to $5.00 and $10 in peak periods, if you haven’t booked into a hotel or paid a $6.00 tourist tax.  The reason?  30 million visitors annually. Poor Venice! Overwhelmed by hordes of noisy tourists,  groups from cruise ships, frequent flooding (75% of the city was flooded in record rainfall last October), its environment degraded (2 million euros is the estimated cost of repairs to St. Marks Cathedral alone) by ships that are reportedly eroding the supports of historic buildings and polluting the water, and its genuine residents driven away, amny of the old house empty and abandoned.

Some year ago there were 175,000 residents; now there are 55,000.  The Mayor has now banned cruise ships sailing past St Marks Square. Some years ago a huge amount of money was raised internationally to address some of the problems – it vanished into the pockets of corrupt officials, it is thought.

And I haven’t mentioned rising sea levels.  It looks as if Venice could be doomed.  As far as I can remember, the money raised years ago was, in addition to repairs to the city, was intended for the building of a sea wall , a barrier similar to that on the Thames outside London.   The opportunity to build a defensive wall was missed.  The problem now is both lack of time, but also will donors give again, given the chronic corruption that any building scheme in Italy seems to be subject to?   Isn’t it sad that greedy and unscrupulous people could be so selfish and short-sighted.

When Epicurus said that the “goal of life is happiness”  he was referring to the happiness of all, not just to a small gang of incompetents and thieves.

Some better news – about food

Several new, healthy GM foods are arriving, or about to arrive, offering health benefits, increased flavour and longer shelf-life. This is a list of them:

Arctic apples, which went on sale in the US in November 2017, never go brown (Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc)

Non-browning apples: Some people dislike eating fruit with discoloured flesh. This never happens to Arctic apples. They went on sale in the US in November 2017.

Potatoes that don’t bruise: The Innate potato is less prone to bruising and black spots. When fried, it also produces less acrylamide, a substance suspected of causing cancer, than conventional potatoes do.

Wheat with “good” gluten. At least two groups worldwide are editing out the genes for the gluten proteins that damage the guts of people with digestive disorders. One GM wheat is undergoing clinical trials in Spain.

Pink pineapples: They are pink because they accumulate lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red, instead of converting it into yellow beta-carotene as normal pineapples do. Lycopene is thought to have various health benefits. The pink pineapples are also said to be sweeter – and add a twist to a pina colada.

Omega-3 rapeseed (canola): This seed from the rape plant is rich in the beneficial omega-3 oil DHA.

High-fibre white bread: Gene-edited wheat yields white flour with three times as much dietary fibre as standard white flour.

Bloodier oranges: Blood oranges are rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins. Normal blood oranges only turn red if they experience cold nights while growing, regardless of the weather. The oranges are not yet on sale.

Bananas: The matoke cooking banana is a staple in Uganda. The GM variety contains provitamin A, a lack of which can lead to blindness. It is being field tested in Uganda and could be on sale in 2021.

Lower-saturated fat rapeseed oil: Conventional rapeseed oil contains 7 per cent saturated fats. A gene-edited variety will have half this amount.

Golden rice: Rice designed to reduce vitamin A deficiency has been approved in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and declared it safe for humans.

Opinion: Scientists are now confident that GM modified fruits and vegetables are totally safe for human beings, and that refusing to accept GM food is similar to climate change denial

(Michael Le Page,senior news reporter for New Scientist. Lightly edited to make it a bit shorter; nothing important omitted)

Poor diddums!

Watching Alec Baldwin imitating Trump on Saturday Live (simply repeating what Trump said, but mimicking his speaking voice) has gotten under the skin of the latter. who asked, “How do these networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? The rigged and corrupt media is the enemy of the people”.

According to CNN an Ipsos poll last August found that 44% of Republicans believe Trump should be able to close news outlets for “bad behaviour”.

We are in dire trouble!

Good Epicureans have a sense of humour, and part of having a sense of humour is being able to laugh at oneself, or, at the very least, take a ribbing with a smile on one’s face. One should have learned this by the age of 12.

Some good news? A second green revolution?

Photosynthesis – the process used by plants to convert light energy into the chemical energy that fuels growth – is one of nature’s most crucial chemical reactions. And an international team of scientists (mainly from US and British universities) now believe they can use a genetic “hack” to make the process more efficient, and, in so doing, substantially boost yields of key food crops. In many plants, it turns out, photosynthesis is subject to a serious glitch: a fifth of the time, the enzyme responsible for capturing CO2 from the atmosphere grabs oxygen molecules instead. Plants thus affected then produce toxic compounds that have to be recycled through an energy-intensive process known as photorespiration, which stops plants growing to their full potential.

But by genetically “tweaking” the cells of tobacco plants, the scientists of the Ripe (Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) project – heavily funded by Bill and Melinda Gates – have succeeded in making photorespiration more efficient. When the modified plants were grown outdoors, yields increased by as much as 40%. The team are now trying to apply the technique to crops affected by photorespiration, including rice, wheat, soybean and potatoes. If successful – and if the resulting GM crops pass the requisite safety tests – they predict that the impact on agriculture could be as transformative as the Green Revolution of the 1950s. (The Times, London)

My comment: it’s good to be able to report some good news! However, what we don’t know id how climate change is going to affect worldwide agricultural areas. I refer to higher temperatures, wildfires, sudden and unprecedented downpours, hurricanes anf high humidity. If this new “tweaking” counteracts all this then we are onto something positive.

Donors Trust

Donors Trust is an American non-profit donor-advised fund. It was founded in 1999 with the goal of “safeguarding the intent of libertarian and conservative donors”. Like all donor-advised funds, Donors Trust can offer anonymity to its clients who do not wish to make their donations public. It makes grants to charities that are not dependent on government support and that promote limited government, personal responsibility and free enterprise. It assures clients that their contributions will never be used to support politically liberal causes. (my italics).

In 2015 Donors Trust had an income of about $68 million. Lawson Bader, the president of both Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, was formerly president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Vice President at the Mercatus Center, both extremist right wing organisations committed to undoing the New Deal, including social security, all the measures that protect the lives and safety of ordinary citizens, destroying the unions, public schooling, and all economic regulations. Latterly it has tried to discredit the science of global warming, to its everlasting shame (approximately one-quarter of the funding of the “climate counter-movement” was from the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund).

I have set out the above to make the readership aware of an important hard right organisation that supports extreme wealth and threatens American democracy. Their point of view is in stark contrast to that of supporters of Epicureanism, who believe in moderation and in treating everyone with decency and respect. That means rich and poor, young and old, people of every political opinion, color, race, gender and sexual preference.

In the UK: a never- ending series of cuts in local government funding

Between 2010 and 2020, local councils in yhe UK will have lost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services. Councils have gone to great lengths to ensure the savings they have been forced to make have as little impact as possible on the quality of services provided to their residents. They have embraced efficiency and innovation in a way that is not being replicated anywhere else in the public sector.

However, local government leaders warn the financial viability of some councils is now under threat and many others are increasingly unable to provide dignified care for our elderly and disabled, protect children, boost economic growth, fill potholes, build homes and much more.

Funding pressures and rising demand for services, such as adult and children’s social care and homelessness support, will leave local services in England facing a £3.9 billion funding black hole next year.

Figures from the Local Government Association show that residents living in a council area which sits in the mid-range in relation to current funding, levels of deprivation and outlook for economic growth should expect to see key local services further dramatically reduced in 2019/20. Millions of residents are living in areas where their council will have to consider similar measures.

Councils meanwhile are facing unprecedented demand for adult and children’s social care and homelessness services, which is forcing cutbacks in the other services, such as road maintenance, leisure centres land libraries, and concentration only upon activities. Losing a further £1.3 billion of central government funding at this time is going to tip many councils over the edge. Many local authorities will reach the point where they only have the funds to provide services for which they have a statutory responsibility. The critical thing is not to see the local government abandon home care for the elderly – there no one else willing to do it.

The Local Government Association, in its pleas to Central Government, wrote: “Investing in local government is good for the nation’s prosperity, economic growth and for the health and well-being of our nation. It will boost economic growth, reduce demand for services and save money for the taxpayer and others part of the public sector.” Comments like this have no credibility in right-wing circles, nor have stories about granny’s miserable time in Council sponsored old people’s homes. You can see why so many people, told to blame the EU, lashed out when given a chance to vote against the system.

My comment: Every Conservative government since Thatcher has targeted local government. It is all part of the earnest desire of right-wingers to starve government to death and force the populace to “stand on its own feet”, unsupported by tax revenue from hard-working CEOs, bankers and sundry mega-millionaires,(known in Tory circles as the “truly deserving”). Does this sound familiar to American readers? The only good thing one can point out is that vulnerable young people are now once again espousing ideas that would restore decency and Epicurean kindness and consideration to public affairs. There are other things in life but simply money, although the mega-rich would dispute this. Go for it, guys!

Climate change and the collapse of everything

Human-caused threats to climate, nature and economy pose a danger of systemic collapse comparable to the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new report that calls for urgent and radical reform to protect political and social systems. While many studies of environmental risk have examined threats in isolation – to the weather, to ecosystems, to the economy – the new paper, “This is a Crisis: Facing up to the Age of Environmental Breakdown”, assesses how the interplay of these factors can create a cascade of tipping points in human society as well as the natural world.

The meta-study compiled by the IPPR thinktank shows that since 2005, the number of floods has increased by a factor of 15, extreme temperature events by a factor of 20, and wildfires sevenfold; topsoil is now being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes; the 20 warmest years since records began in 1850 have been in the past 22 years; vertebrate populations have fallen by an average of 60% since the 1970s; and insect numbers – vital for pollination – have declined even faster in some countries.

Wider discussion is the first step, according to lead author Laurie Laybourn-Langton, who said he was shocked by the paucity of public debate relative to the scale of the problems: “It is the sort of thing mentioned at the end of a conversation, that makes everyone look at the floor, but we don’t have time for that now,” he said. (Guardian 12 Feb 2018)

My comment: That man-made climate change is a threatening fact should be a matter of debate no longer. It has been proved beyond doubt, and no respectable scientist now doubts it. Unfortunately, half-educated people like Trump and his yes-men, and those cynical money people for whom climate change is highly inconvenient and needs to be discredited, have muddied the waters (so to speak), denying the evidence of their own eyes and of the daily news. But young people know it’s true and are rightly frightened about the prospect of what is likely to happen in their lifetimes: mass migrations causing violence, the swamping of coastal cities, increasing numbers of wildfires, horrendously hot summers and the loss of productive soil by erosion (to name some of the worst).

I would rather like to erect a memorial that listed the chief proponents of doing nothing, the people who have actively trashed science. Their names would live in ignominy on my memorial. I won’t, of course, build it, having neither the ways or means to do so. But I, like all good Epicureans, should do what they personally can to mitigate the effects of their own footprints on our sickening planet. This is actually all we can do, aside from countering the ignorant and the selfish climate deniers whenever we encounter them. Where do they think all the gunk we spew into the air goes? Mars?

Street philosophy No. 2

Three philosophers set up a booth on a busy street, as per yesterday’s post, hoping to discuss philosophy with passers-by.

A group of teenagers engaged one of the philosopher. A young woman, who turned out to be a sophomore in college, said she had a serious concern. “Why can’t I be happier in my life? I’m only 20. I should be as happy as I’m ever going to be right now, but I’m not. Is this it?”

The philosopher replied, “Research has shown that what makes us happy is achieving small goals one after the other. If you win the lottery, within six months you’ll probably be back to your baseline of happiness. Same if you got into an accident. You can’t just achieve happiness and stay there, you have to pursue it.”

“So I’m stuck?” she said.

“No…” he explained. “Your role in this is huge. You’ve got to choose the things that make you happy one by one. That’s been shown from Aristotle all the way down to cutting-edge psychological research. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

She brightened a bit, while her friends were still puzzling over whether color was a primary or secondary property. They said their thanks and moved on.


Street philosophy. No.1

Three philosophers were stationed on a New York street, prepared to take questions from the passers- by. A little girl, six years old, approached the group and asked, “How do I know I’m real?”

Suddenly I was back in graduate school, reported one of the philosophers later. Should I talk about the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who famously used the assertion of skepticism itself as proof of our existence, with the phrase “I think, therefore I am?” Or, mention English philosopher G.E. Moore and his famous “here is one hand, here is the other,” as proof of the existence of the external world? Or, make a reference to the movie “The Matrix,” which I assumed, given her age, she wouldn’t have seen?

But then the answer came to me. I remembered that the most important part of philosophy was feeding our sense of wonder. “Close your eyes,” I said. She did. “Well, did you disappear?” She smiled and shook her head, then opened her eyes. “Congratulations, you’re real.”


The revolving door in the Republican administration

President Trump has picked David Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist, to be the Interior Department’s next secretary. Bernhardt, whose past clients include oil companies and others with business before the Interior Department, will lead an agency that oversees about 500 million acres as well as the energy production on that land. It has 70,000 employees in various agencies overseeing federal land, offshore drilling, endangered species and American Indian affairs, among other duties.

As deputy secretary, Bernhardt, worked closely with former, ethically challenged, Secretary Ryan Zinke on his oil and gas leasing agenda and the administration’s push to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He champions the rollback of a number of Endangered Species Act regulations and called the Endangered Species Act an “unnecessary regulatory burden”.

Bernhardt’s lobbying activities have been so widespread that he carries a card with him listing all the recusals he has to make, no doubt with misgivings.

Bernhardt is accused by environmental organisations, appalled at this move by Trump, of pandering to oil, coal, and gas industries. One environmentalist is quoted as saying, ““As an oil and gas lobbyist, Bernhardt pushed to open vast swaths of public lands for drilling and mining. As deputy secretary, he was behind some of the worst policy decisions of Secretary Zinke’s sad tenure, including stripping protections for imperiled wildlife.”

It is sad to comment that this in-your-face example of corruption, pandering to special interests and acting against the interests of American citizens seems to have been normalised. Congress has lost so many of its experts (Republican policy) that it now relies on lobbyists, (who have their own agendas) when it comes to technical knowledge and expertise. The selfish and ruthless are picking at the bones of the United States, while China quietly separates the US from its allies. So much for Making America Great Again – it’s a joke in poor taste.

The UK signs some mega trade deals!

The UK and Switzerland have signed a deal to continue trading after Brexit as they did before it. The “continuity agreement” – based on the EU’s existing free trade deal with Switzerland – was ratified on Monday. Around £32bn of trade is done between the UK and Switzerland each year, with 15,000 British exporters involved.

The UK is seeking to replicate about 40 EU worlwide free trade agreements, covering more than 70 countries. In 2017, the government announced that the UK could complete them all before leaving the EU on 29 March, to avoid disruption to trade. But with only 46 days until the UK is set to leave, continuity agreements have been signed with only:
The Faroe Islands
Eastern and Southern Africa
Mutual recognition agreements – where a product lawfully sold in one country can be sold in another – have also been signed with Australia and New Zealand.

The director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn, said the lack of other trade deals being signed was an “emergency” – particularly in the case of South Korea and Japan. (adapted from a BBC report)

Gosh! Four agreements in two years! Right wing Tories don’t like a customs union because they claim they can do better deals than the huge EU has been able to do. Easy, they said. But if all you are going to do is to use the identical EU wording, what precisely is the point of all this chaos and angst? Oh, sorry, of course it is the keep the pesky foreigners out.

All the same, we never thought the Faroe Islands would come so readily to the rescue. Thanks, fellows!

Meanwhile, 36 more agreements to go before March 29th! What an incompetent bunch!